Tucked away in the small town of Sangalhos is the Aliança winery. Not such a surprise perhaps, given that Portugal is the 12th largest wine producer on the planet. But what is surprising is that the Aliança winery is more than just a wine production site and shop. Hidden, literally underneath the winery is the Aliança Underground museum. A tour of the museum takes you from Africa to Portugal, via the ageing cellars and back out for a complementary wine tasting at the end.
A little bit about Aliança first. Aliança Vinhos de Portugal is the second biggest wine group in Portugal with both wineries and quintas contributing to its range of wines. Aliança use indigenous grapes from each region, producing DOP wines and IGP wines from the Dão, Douro, Alentejo, Beiras and Bairrada as well as brandies and sparkling wines.
The museum itself is part of the Berardo Collection, a collection of art put together over many years by José Berardo. Other collections from the Berardo Collection can be found in Lisbon and at at the BuddhaGarden in Bombarral.
At 20 metres underground, the tour starts with a map of the Aliança underground with each ‘station’ on the stop relating to a particular collection or junction in between a collection. The first stop is Africa where archaeological phallic burial pots and offerings to gods of fertility are displayed alongside weapons, chairs and handcarved goods. Africa plays large role in the collection given that Mr Berardo has spent a significant part of his life on that continent.
Another stop on the underground tour is the mineral room. Shaped very much like a mine tunnel and lit appropriately, this is a fine collection of minerals of all shapes and sizes in their raw form. From quartz to lapiz lazuli, there are minerals from all over the world here including Brazil and Africa. The impressive use of light makes the display even more interesting as the minerals look so different from one angle to the next. Moving on from the mineral collection is the equally impressive fossil collection which includes fossils from Scotland, England and France. There’s even a dinosaur jaw there for authenticity.
As the underground tour moves on the wine element increases with the process of barrel ageing of aguardientes and brandies explained and a treat for the eyes in the Pink Room. The Pink Room is a former ageing cellar for the group’s sparkling wine.
Finally, the tour takes you through the tile rooms, also known as azulejos. With rescued frescos from Portuguese hotels, churches and pottery by the world famous Bordalo Pinheiro, there is even more to whet your appetite and ready you for the wine tasting at the end. Aliança’s rose sparkling wine and a low-alcohol summer drink are included on the tasting and can be bought in the shop. If you simply want to buy wine in the shop, you can pop in at any time. For a visit to the museum, you need to pre-book by email. The museum tour is just €3.50 and well worth every cent. This was my second visit to the museum and I will definitely go again.